Landmark research has found that women who take the Pill while young are at lower risk of ovarian, womb and bowel cancer more than three decades later.
The study of 46,000 women – the longest ever led– concluded that the protective benefits last for 35 years after they stop taking the oral contraceptive pill.
The British women in the study had the drug for just three and a half years on average when they were in their 20s and 30s.
But the protection from cancer lasted until their 50s, 60s, and 70s – the age when they would usually be at greatest risk.
And they were at no greater risk of other forms of cancer – a finding that will reassure those who take the Pill.
The researchers, from the University of Aberdeen, calculated that women who had taken the Pill were a third less likely than women who had never taken the drug to ever develop cancer of the ovaries or the endometrial – the lining of the womb.
And they were a fifth less likely to develop bowel cancer.
Some 3.5million women in Britain take the Pill, which is by far the most popular method of contraception.
Experts last night said the study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, would ’significantly alter’ the public’s view of the risks and benefits of the drug.
Women have long been told if they take the Pill they may be at higher risk of breast cancer or cervical cancer. But the study showed these risks do not last long, disappearing completely five years after they stopped taking the Pill. By the time women have gone through the menopause – the time when most cancers occur – those who have taken the Pill in the past are at no additional risk of any cancer, the researchers found.
The Aberdeen team wrote: ’These results provide stronger evidence that most women do not expose themselves to long-term cancer harm if they choose to use oral contraception; indeed many are likely to be protected.’
They found that for every 100,000 women who took the Pill, 22 would develop ovarian cancer at some point in their life, compared to 33 who never took the drug.
Some 48 users would develop bowel cancer, compared to 59 non-users, and 19 women who took the Pill would develop endometrial cancer, compared to 30 who did not.
The Pill works by artificially raising levels of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which stop the ovaries from ovulating.
Additional oestrogen increases the risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer – the focus of research fears in the past. But scientists think this risk is offset by the reduction in ovulation – which cuts the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer.
They are not yet sure why bowel cancer is affected.
The study involved 23,000 women from across the UK who used the combined oral contraceptive pill, and 23,000 who did not. They were tracked until 2012.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ’Millions of women who use the combined oral contraceptive pill should be reassured by this comprehensive research that they are not at increased risk of cancer as a result – and that taking the Pill might actually decrease their risk of certain cancers.’

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